The Emperor and the Assassin/ Jing ke ci qin wang (1998) Chen Kaige

July 20, 2008 at 9:54 pm

The Emperor and the Assassin, a co-production between China, Japan and France (with some German participation), preceded Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon‘s success, and thus remained somewhat less visible than it would be if it had been released in the aftermath of Ang Lee’s phenomenal success. It was directed by another Fifth Generation figurehead, Chen Kaige, whose credits also include the beautiful Life on a String (1991) and the Cannes winner Farewell My Concubine (1993). Like Curse of the Golden Flower, it also stars Gong Li and has been similarly described as a ‘compelling epic’ an as ‘Chinese history with a Shakespearean twist’.

The film is set in 3rd century BC and features court intrigues related to the establishment of Ying Zheng, heir to the Kingdom of Qin, as powerful emperor whose ambition is to expand his rule beyond his immediate kingdom.

It was shot entirely on location in China and is one of the first productions meant for distribution abroad that clearly took advantage of the fact that labor was so much cheaper in China. In newsgroup review Edwin Jahiel estimates the budget between $10 and $30 million. If this indeed is the case, it is likely that the film was not particularly successful commercially; while it has probably returned the investment, it is not really likely that it has surpassed it more than twice. There are very limited data on its box office, and it is not clear what it made in territories in Europe and Asia. Released December 2000 in the US where it played at a handful of screens (maximum 37) its gross reached $1,328,435. There are no data on revenues from the DVD distribution, even though this is probably a key potential source of revenues. Like many other of these epics, the film, even though it is available on DVD, is also an easy target for pirated Torrent download.

This entry is part of my investigation into international epic cinema, which also includes entries on other films from China (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower), Thailand (Suryiothai), Kazakhstan (Nomad), India (Asoka, Jodha Akbar), and elsewhere (Mongol).